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After a pair of passes cycled around the perimeter, Kameron McGusty turned toward the basket and sent a pass into the high post — resisting the semi-open, semi-forced 3-pointer and instead opting to bounce a ball to Jordan Miller. He was wide-open, with space to maneuver because of Syracuse’s wings creeping toward Charlie Moore, Miami’s 3-point threat. That adjustment to eliminate what boosted the Hurricanes when the two teams last met on Jan. 5, created a one-on-one matchup for Miller on SU center Frank Anselem.
Miller hesitated once he received the ball. He waited for Anselem to close in and then blew by him with a quick burst and a dribble left. Over the previous 10 minutes of the second half, the Hurricanes had slowly chipped away at Syracuse’s once-18-point lead with a similar approach: There was the pass into the high post. Then the quick glances, seeing where he could direct the ball next. And finally, there was either the pass, jump shot or layup, and for Miller, the latest example was a left-handed layup.
“They got inside all the time,” Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said. “We don’t have a presence in there.”
As the Hurricanes erased their game-long deficit, eventually flipping the game in their favor with 13 seconds left, they relied on 42 points in the paint to pierce Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. Miami connected on only 3-of-18 3s after making 11-of-30 against the Orange earlier in the season. On Saturday, Miller led Miami with 25 points, taking all 13 of his shots inside, and he paired with Miami’s guards to help transfer their 3-point threats into the paint, relying on a methodical approach based on how SU defended them on the perimeter.
Syracuse’s 75-72 loss to the Hurricanes on Saturday, which dropped them under .500 to close the regular season, was the second time in three games where an opponent scored 40 or more points in the paint. Miami capitalized on the Orange’s injuries — with Jesse Edwards and Benny Williams out for the season — and foul trouble, with Anselem and Bourama Sidibe picking up three and four, respectively, to wear down their lack of depth.
“We wanted to extend,” Boeheim said. “We did a good job. Defensively, we did what we wanted to do there.”
It was a similar situation to the Virginia Tech game earlier in the season, when Syracuse wanted to shut down the Hokies’ 3-point shooting — knowing they would attempt shot after shot from beyond the arc — and wanted Justyn Mutts, among other interior players, to control the game. Mutts recorded a triple-double, and the Orange lost.
It was like North Carolina just five days prior too, when Boeheim was content with allowing 3-pointers down the stretch because of Syracuse’s ineffectiveness defending inside. Caleb Love hit a 3 with less than 10 seconds left to give the Tar Heels the lead, and the Orange lost in overtime.
Boeheim then reiterated the same sentiment postgame on Saturday: that the point was to limit Moore, who hit six 3s against the Orange earlier in the season. And they did. Moore only went 1-for-6 from beyond the arc, and that single make didn’t come until there was less than two minutes left, when Isaiah Wong, dribbling inside the paint in transition, kicked a pass out to Moore at the top of the key. Beyond that, the Orange only allowed two other 3s, and Jimmy Boeheim said that “we knew they were going to try to penetrate.”
Early in the game, the Hurricanes tried to operate their offense through high-low passes, but Sidibe disrupted a pair of balls and a kicked-ball thwarted another opportunity for a Miami player standing at the block. After Sidibe picked up his second foul, though, and John Bol Ajak picked up two in less than a minute after entering the game, it forced Anselem to anchor the backline of the defense — even after picking up his third and fourth fouls across a one-second span in the second frame.
But once Miami started to erase its deficit, with Syracuse now leading by 18, the Hurricanes relied on the high post to facilitate their ball movement. The first basket of the comeback came when Miller, running in transition after a missed 3, pointed over his shoulder — trying to communicate that Moore needed the ball in the corner. And once Moore caught the ball, and Syracuse’s defender collapsed on him, Miller quickly slid down to the left block and collected a pass for an open layup.
Moore used other spots around the court to bait SU defenders into guarding his 3-point threat, too. Two minutes after the previous Miller layup, Moore stayed at the top of the key after Anthony Walker received the ball in the high post, and a sharp return pass from Walker kick-started a sequence that led with Moore threading a skip pass to Miller underneath for another layup.
“Point was to keep Moore from shooting, and we did,” Boeheim said. “We wanted to make him go inside; we did. We didn’t get much help inside from Frank, but I thought Bourama was good.”
Wong cut backdoor for an alley-oop lob that trimmed Syracuse’s lead to six with 5:30 left, and after Joe Girard III air balled a 3, McGusty hit a shot by the free-throw line to make it a four-point deficit. Sidibe, who played 15 minutes, remained on the bench with Anselem in the game, and when Moore finally got freed up for a 3 — an open look from the top of the key with 30 seconds left and Miami down by 3 — Miller squeezed between Anselem and Jimmy to tip in the layup and make it a one-point game. His layup 12 seconds later, following another offensive rebound, then flipped the game for good.
“We guarded the 3 well,” SU forward Cole Swider said. “They’re going to make adjustments like every team has over the year, and they got in that high post and did some damage.”
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